I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and when people ask me how to be in a relationship with anxiety — that is, how to be in a relationship with someone who has anxiety disorders — the first thing I think about is this:
Being in a Relationship With Anxiety Requires Patience
The hardest thing for me to communicate to people who don’t understand my anxiety is that I’m not doing it on purpose.
It’s different from fear. Fear is usually based in reality. For example, if I see a snake, it’s normal to be afraid.
But if I’m constantly thinking about snakes and terrified that I’ll see them anywhere it’s dark — even in my house — we’ve crossed into the realm of anxiety.
Being in a relationship with someone who suffers from anxiety requires you to understand this simple fact — our anxiety comes from what is essentially a broken brain. My brain’s GABA receptors aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.
And this comes out in all kinds of ways.
For example, my OCD requires me to check locks constantly. I have an irrational fear that my house or car are going to be broken into.
Neither my house nor my car have ever been broken into, but it’s one of my obsessions.
I can watch my wife lock the house, know that she did it right, and then have to get out of the car and go check.
I can hear her press the button on her keys to lock the car and then feel compelled to press the button myself several times.
This used to drive my wife crazy, and it made me feel terrible. I felt like I was doing something wrong when I saw how frustrated she got.
But then she demonstrated patience.
Over time, she has learned that this is part of being in a relationship with me — I’m going to check things, and no amount of medication or therapy is ever going to change that fact.
If she wants to be with me (and I like to think she does), then she has to learn to live with this.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not exactly a lot to put up with. There are much worse things I could be doing.
It’s a minor annoyance at best.
But in relationships, those minor annoyances can grow if not checked.
We’ve had talks about the problem, and she realizes that she just needs to be patient with me and understanding. Sometimes I’ll ask her if she doesn’t mind if I check the locks again. Sometimes she’ll even ask me if I want to check them.
It makes me feel better when I do. Her patience makes our relationship work much more smoothly.
It’s important to note that my wife doesn’t really understand why I’m doing this. She knows I have to do it, but she doesn’t really get it.
That’s okay because she’s willing to be patient with me, but what would be better would be if she could understand what I’m going through.
Though she will never really understand my OCD, she does understand my social anxiety… because she struggles with it herself.
How My Wife and I Deal With Social Anxiety — Understanding
Having a relationship with anxiety affecting one or both partners can be a serious struggle.
My wife and I both have social anxiety, but it manifests in different ways for each of us.
For me, the social anxiety only goes away when I get to know people really well. When I have to be in a social situation, I tend to latch on to someone I know and stick with them throughout.
My wife’s social anxiety is worse.
I’ve found that I can mostly deal with my social anxiety, but her’s is as bad as my need to check locks over and over.
We don’t exactly find ourselves in social situations all the time, but when we do, I try to apply not patience, but understanding to her problems.
I know what she’s going through because I experience it myself.
I understand what she’s going through to some degree, so I try to apply that understanding by putting myself between her and the source of her anxiety — just like she is understanding when I have to go back and check the locks.
So what does this relationship with anxiety look like? When we’re in a social situation together, I always try to be the one to strike up conversations, even though I don’t want to. In fact, I will do my best to dominate the conversations so that she doesn’t have to talk at all.
Once she gets to know someone, she’ll become more comfortable, and then she’ll speak up, but in a crowded room where she knows no one, she relies on me to take the lead.
And even though I have social anxiety myself, I’m understanding of this struggle of hers. I don’t get angry that I’m forced to deal with my own social anxiety and overcome it.
Instead, I see it as a small sacrifice that I make for her, just like she makes a small sacrifice for me when my OCD starts to get bad.
Having Anxiety and Being in a Relationship
If you’re in a relationship with anxiety affecting one or both people, it’s important that you communicate with your partner about what you’re feeling and what they can do about it.
That’s why I tell my wife about how I’m feeling when I want to check the locks. That’s why I take over in social situations without asking her.
I’m in both situations — I have anxiety, and so does my wife — so I have to do both: communicate and be understanding and patient.
If you don’t have anxiety and your significant other isn’t talking about theirs, ask them. The best thing you can do is to open that line of communication so that you can start to understand not just what they’re experiencing, but how you can help.
In fact, I don’t think it’s necessary that you understand — you might never understand — but rather, what matters is that you try to understand and that you talk about it so that you can figure out what it is you need to do to be supportive.
If you’re on the other end — if you have anxiety and your partner doesn’t — communication is critical. You need to let the other person know what you’re feeling, what’s causing it (if you can pin it down), what they can do about it (if anything), and what you need from them.
For example, if you have panic attacks, tell them what they’re like for you. Help them understand what the experience is. Tell them what to do or not do if you start to have a panic attack.
Relationships with anxiety are hard, but through communication, understanding, and patience, you can have a healthy, happy relationship just like anyone else.
Do you struggle with anxiety or intrusive thoughts?
Read more about what OCD is like here.